If you’re comfortable communicating one2one or in small groups, then speaking in front of a high-stakes audience or from a big stage can feel daunting. What you may not realise is that the authenticity that helps you to communicate so powerfully in small rooms is exactly what you need to connect with your audiences in those bigger settings. I’m a communication coach and not once have I taken a phone call from a client asking me, ‘help I want to listen better!’ However, it is precisely the skill of listening that you use so effortlessly in a small meeting that will help you to connect from the main stage.
Here are three ideas to help you to harness your listening skills to grow your influence as a speaker – and the last one may be the most surprising!
No-one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care
Be real. When you understand your audience, their challenges and their aspirations, you can speak to those needs. When we’re asked to speak or present, there is sometimes the temptation to show off our own brilliance, or to show how much we know about a certain topic. Instead, being authentic and tuning in to what your audience needs is how you create a connection from the front of the room. This helps your audience relate to you and what you stand for. By doing this you build your influence within your organisation, or within your industry, one talk or presentation at a time. Remember, it’s what they say about you when you’re not in the room that grows your reputation.
Comedian Dara O’Briain on Desert Island Discs (at 2:13) asks ‘How can I move my audience’s energy when I’m performing?’ And his answer is to use stories. Stories evoke emotions and connect deeply with your audience. When you have a message that you want to get across, find stories from your personal experience that will resonate with your audience. All stories are personal, whether you choose to share a personal experience or simply your interpretation of the world around you. Taking the time to understand how your audience understands your topic at means that you will find relatable stories to bring your message to life.
Respond in the moment
Listen in the moment and tune in to the body language in the room. Watching Ben Affleck’s recent movie, Air, I learnt a surprising fact. Martin Luther King’s famous I have a Dream speech was almost completely improvised. He stood in front of the crowd in Washington DC that day, and halfway through his speech realised that he didn’t have the full attention of his audience. So in that moment he chose to shift gear. His planned 5 minute address turned into that immortal 16-minute speech that lives on in the collective consciousness. This is an exceptional example of tuning in to your audience and responding to what is needed to help your message to land.
In summary, what this means for you as a communicator is that everything you need is already within you to influence others from the front of the room. Whether you enjoy small settings or big stages, listening to your audience and tuning in to their needs will help you to influence them with your ideas.
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